A defrocked priest, who once taught at a Catholic high school in Portland, pleaded guilty Monday to sexually assaulting a 9-year-old boy at a Freeport church in the late 1990s.
James F. Talbot, who already spent time behind bars for molesting boys in Massachusetts, will serve three years in a Maine prison as part of his sentence for sexually assaulting and having unlawful sexual contact with a minor under the age of 14. He is 80 years old.
The boy, whom Talbot molested in 1997 and 1998 while he was a visiting priest at the St. Jude Church, is now 30 years old. In a clear, measured voice, he told a Portland court Monday that the former priest stole his childhood and his faith, and led him to contemplate taking his own life.
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“I remember painfully dreading every Sunday in pure terror knowing that I had to got to church that day,” he said. “To this day, I remember the steps going into the church as if they were guiding me into hell.”
The man, who the Bangor Daily News is not naming because he’s the victim of abuse, said that Talbot “groomed” him and his family, and that it’s taken years in counselling for him to understand how his parents could have missed what was happening.
“What was supposed to be a man from God, who we could all trust and follow, turned out to be a disgusting animal that molests children,” he said.
Justice Roland Cole sentenced Talbot to 10 years in prison with all but three of those suspended for the sexual assault and three years, to be served at the same time, for the unlawful sexual contact. Years of probation will follow the prison time, and Talbot will spend the rest of his life either behind bars or in a Missouri home that the Catholic Church runs for troubled former priests, his lawyer, Walter McKee, said.
Talbot declined to address the court or the victims beyond his guilty plea. Marshals led him out in handcuffs as the courtroom echoed with applause from some of the more than 20 people, including family of some of the priest’s other victims, who attended the proceeding.
Although the former Jesuit priest has an history of sexual abuses dating back to the 1970s and has settled lawsuits with more than a dozen victims, the Monday plea was only his second criminal conviction. In some cases, he was not prosecuted because the statute of limitations had passed.
Another of Talbot’s accusers, Michael Doherty, of St. Petersburg, Florida, attended Monday’s court appearance to show solidarity with the victim. Doherty, a former student at Cheverus High School, settled a lawsuit against Talbot years ago.
“A civil suit doesn’t give you that moment where they take him away in handcuffs,” said Doherty, who was named by the Associated Press because he came forward publicly.
Cole noted that there was little Maine precedent to draw on in sentencing Talbot. But the former priest’s second prison sentence for molesting children begins as the Catholic Church continues to be rocked by the abuse scandal first brought to public in 2002 light by The Boston Globe, and as law enforcement around the country and world grapple with how to hold members of the clergy responsible for the sex crimes.
“Justice has been served,” Bishop Robert Deeley of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland said in a statement. “I pray that today’s proceedings provide continued healing and peace for victims/survivors. I can think of nothing worse than this incomprehensible abuse.”
Talbot was a Jesuit priest, not a priest for the Portland diocese. The president Cheverus High School — the Jesuit academy where Talbot taught until he was fired after the 1998 allegations — that the guilty plea amounts to “justice for the victim” and “recommits” the school to creating a safe environment where abuse is not tolerated.
“We hope this can be a starting point of healing for the victim and his family,” the Reverend Robert Pecoraro said in a statement.
Talbot was released from prison in 2011, after serving six years of a five- to seven-year sentence for assaulting teenage boys while he was their wrestling coach at Boston College High School, according to The Patriot Ledger. He is “penniless” and has been living since then at the Vianney Renewal Center in Dittmer, Missouri, McKee said.
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Talbot played an integral role in the spiritual life of the family of the boy he molested. He married the boy’s parents, baptised him, and gave him his first communion and his confirmation.
If the case had gone to trial, the victim would have testified that during a confirmation class in 1998 Talbot took him to a room behind the altar of St. Jude Church, Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Ackerman told the court Monday. As the boy sat on a wooden chair the priest scolded him for having sworn and then ran his hand up the child’s leg and began rubbing his crotch, Ackerman said.
Ackerman recommended that Talbot be sentenced to 15 years in prison with all but eight of those suspended, but told the judge that “any sentence you give him is not long enough.”
McKee suggested that his client be sentenced to 8 years with all but 18 months suspended, noting that he hopes to leave prison “on his feet and not on his back.”
For the Maine family that Talbot’s abuse affected, the appropriate sentence is eternity.
While addressing the court Monday, the victim’s father turned away from the judge to look directly at the former priest, who was sitting at a table only feet away.
“I hope you rot in hell and I hope you die in jail,” he said. “How can the Catholic Church allow this stuff to go on?”
Associated Press reporter Marina Villeneuve contributed to this report.
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